The U.S. military is losing in Afghanistan, and the Trump administration is covering up the extent of the failure.
That is the only possible conclusion from the news that the Pentagon, for the first time, is now redacting portions of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports detailing yet another few months of fiasco. "This is the first time SIGAR has been specifically instructed not to release information marked 'unclassified' to the American taxpayer," an agency spokesperson noted in a statement last week.
When thinking about lost American wars, my mind inevitably turns to how America treats its soldiers and veterans when they aren't getting shot at or blown up.
Take the Super Bowl, for instance, which prominently worships the troops. The hyper-patriotic opening ceremonies, with the gigantic flag and the national anthem and the soldiers (for which the Pentagon often pays handsomely, it should be noted) are present in all NFL games, of course, but they reach a sort of paroxysm of hysterical nationalism at the Super Bowl. And that, of course, is only the tip of a vast cultural iceberg of Thank You For Your Service at airports, restaurants, movies, and myriad other public events.
But the rhetorical grandiosity of the troop worship in American society seems roughly inversely proportional to the actual care and consideration shown to veterans in real life. They do have the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is chronically underfunded but at least mostly functional. But there is no broader welfare state to help homeless veterans, and the VA is still falling short when it comes to PTSD and suicide. (Vets who served in Iraq or Afghanistan between 2001-07, for instance, face a roughly 40-60 percent increased risk of suicide compared to the American average.)
Because when it comes to the most important decision one can possibly make about soldiers — when and how to send them to get shot at and blown up — the actual American attitude is a sort of bored, apathetic callousness.
The American polity barely blinked when President Trump announced he was going to try the exact same surge strategy in Afghanistan that failed under Obama and failed under Bush, only smaller. The Republican Party stood squarely behind him, of course, but many Democratic Party elites could barely muster a call for a congressional vote; only a handful attacked Trump's strategy as stupid and wrong.
And now what is the result of a year of mini-surge? American casualties have doubled from a year ago, and the country is no more fundamentally stable than it was in 2016 or 2006. The SIGAR statement blackly notes that among the things the Pentagon is keeping hidden is the "number of districts, and the population living in them, controlled or influenced by the Afghan government or by the insurgents, or contested by both," and that "[f]or the second consecutive quarter, [the Department of Defense] also classified or otherwise restricted information SIGAR had previously reported including such fundamental metrics of ANDSF performance as casualties, attrition, and most capability assessments."
In other words, they are keeping secret whether the occupation is a success or failure — and there's only one realistic possibility as to which option is being concealed.
From the very start of the Afghanistan occupation, the major problem has always been that the American military is not a particularly effective tool for accomplishing a top-to-bottom overhaul of an entire society halfway around the world. The task amounts to forcing several hundred years of history down the throats of an understandably not-very-trusting population in the literal graveyard of empires. It's about as close to fundamentally impossible as can be imagined.
The level of pain and death inflicted on the population of Afghanistan is, of course, two orders of magnitude at least worse than that suffered by American soldiers. The biggest reason by far to end the war in Afghanistan immediately is that the occupation is clearly fueling the conflict more than ending it. But if Americans can't be bothered to pay attention to dead Afghan children, they might at least try to care about their own soldiers.
The truth is that American lives are being wasted over there, and the Trump administration is lying about it.